“The greatest oak was once a little nut that held its ground.” This caption graces the painting of a bright green oak tree on a wooden wall plaque. Hilda, the artist, gifted it to me in 1977. The painting has traveled with me over the decades, but, I had not knowingly laid eyes on it again until recently. Seldom do we meet people who remain in our lives for a lifetime. I felt very happy as I reflected on my times with her family in South Florida. Over the past forty years, I have had the privilege of officiating at each of her son’s and daughter’s weddings, and presiding at Hilda’s funeral.
The Spirit nudged me to text a photo of the painting to my little brothers as Hilda had “adopted” me as her fourth son when all we were much younger! John, the elder son, and Ted, the younger son, replied within minutes. Ted said that his eyes filled with tears immediately when he saw it. After a phone conversation, it became clear to me that the painting should be gifted back to him and his family.
On Wednesday night of the following week, a text came from Ted regarding his receipt of the painting. The photo revealed that it was already hanging in a special place in his home. My happiness at finding the plaque evolved into joy, rooted in relationship with the family. As that little nut had germinated into a giant oak, my temporary happiness had germinated into a lasting joy!
Happiness and joy are often times used synonymously. Until pressed to define joy, thinking long and deeply about the differences, moments of happy experiences filled my mind. Fingers of the sun’s rays rising over the Atlantic at Fernandina Beach, Florida; a rainbow that appearing at Explo ’72 in Dallas, Texas; and, a mystical experience while standing by a mist-covered lake at the monastery in Conyers, Georgia, surfaced from my memory. These lovely thoughts and memories surface at times, and they lift me to higher moments of happiness when triggered by events and circumstances.
Were these memories of “joyful” experiences? The difference is about perspective. Happiness is an external, momentary, temporary emotion whereas joy is a lasting, lifelong, internal emotion. Joy is an explosion of happiness that fills and remains with the soul. Joy is germinated internally, and, joy is less transitory. It pleases the self, and, sometimes pleases others!
In Galatians 5:22-23, joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We can think of joy as being deeply-rooted happiness—because of God’s indwelling presence and grace. Joy is relational—with God, with community, and with individuals. John 15:11 reminds us to abide in Christ, that our joy may be full. When we abide in Christ, we can expect to know the fullness of His joy.
Dr. Jim Crews, is an ordained minister and board-certified medical chaplain with PruittHealth Hospice, and has served in the Metro Atlanta and North Georgia area for many years.